Eleanor Oliphant, pulled pork and a sexuality conference (What I’m into – June 2018)

Books

Wow. Just wow. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine certainly lived up to its hype.

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This was our Book Club’s choice this month, and I was delighted as it’s been on my list for months. Eleanor Oliphant lives an isolated life, devoid of any meaningful relationship, hobby or interest – beyond drinking vodka on her own all weekend to get through the gap between her working weeks.

Without giving anything away (because you really do need to read this book for yourself!), it’s fairly apparent from the start that there’s something unusual about Eleanor – but what it is unfolds gradually throughout the book.

I loved the hopeful way the book ended (not to mention the exciting twist in the last few pages), and I found the whole thing immensely enjoyable – laugh-out-loud funny at times, as author Gail Honeyman captures Eleanor’s straightforward, literal thought processes perfectly.

Again, without giving too much away, I particularly enjoyed this book from an adoption perspective. Although adoption isn’t a theme in the book, the impact of trauma, neglect and abuse is explored, sometimes making for difficult reading, but always sensitively and wisely handled.

In short – read this book! Seriously one of my favourite books ever.

It didn’t take me long to finish, but everything else I started this month didn’t get finished, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for more books!

Food

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Of course there were plenty of BBQs, and general al fresco eating this month – BECAUSE EATING OUTDOORS IS SO MUCH MORE FUN AND LESS HASSLE. And because – look at the weather! Even in the North!

My personal favourite was the yummy pulled-pork recipe you see above. It’s a great one for a busy day, because it takes about 10 minutes to get all the bits together and whack in the oven – then when you get home from your busyness, you’ve got a fabulous meal waiting for you with very little else needed except buns and coleslaw (although we did chunky chips – also easy – and some cooked veg for fussy little eaters).

And I successfully made canneloni for the very first time! I realised the problem was in the piping bag – so, in the month where I tried to reduce plastic usage by buying a shampoo bar instead of a bottle, I offset this by buying a roll of 100 disposable plastic piping bags. Eek. Sorry, world.

It did help, though. The result was amazing (this is the recipe I used). Sadly, I don’t have a pic of the finished article, so (just for evidence, so that you believe me that I actually pulled this off) here’s a pic of the cannelloni, all neatly piped and ready for some sauce, cheese and a half-hour in the oven.


Music

Not being at all gadgety or Internet-y, I was absolutely delighted to discover that Spotify was indeed as wonderful as everyone says it is. I bought a 99p 3-month trial so that I could put together a soundtrack for our Summer Fair (see below), but within an hour or listening for my own benefit, I was totally converted that THIS IS HOW I WANT TO LIVE FOREVER, THROWING OUT ALL THE CDS AND NEVER USING ANYTHING OTHER THAN DIGITAL MUSIC EVER AGAIN.

Until the hubs reminded me that our car only plays CDs. Oh well.

Through Spotify, however, I discovered Lily Allen’s latest album – I’ve kind of lost touch with her since her first album, but this one was perfectly accessible and just brilliant. I like how her music’s grown up with her, exploring different territories lyrically (divorce, being a working mum, etc.) but musically having the same quirks and emotional sweetness of her earlier stuff.

My personal favourite on the album was ‘Three’ but, honestly, there’s not really a dud song on there.

Stage and screen

download (2).jpgWell, having read it last month, our Book Club had to watch The Light between Oceans, didn’t we?! It’s good, and well worth watching – obviously not as good as the book (did I really need to say that?), predominantly because so much detail has to be left out – detail which changes how you view the secondary characters – but it’s a powerful film none-the-less.

download (3).jpgWe finished the UK House of Cards (the old one), and, much as I’d enjoyed the three series, I was hugely disappointed by the finale, which felt like a cop-out along the lines of “…and then they woke up to discover it had all been a dream”. I really felt that, with the clever plots and dialogue thus far, the writers could have come up with something better. Anyone seen it/share my views?! Feel like I’m kind of on my own here in 1990s British drama territory.

Articles

Some great stuff this month!

I’ve started to think a bit more about transgender and sexuality issues (and no, this is not my way of announcing my impending transition).

I absolutely loved Living Out’s Identity conference (see below), and interestingly I’ve started to find a few non-religious voices speaking out against the ease of gender transition (not against it per se, but concerned particularly for under 18s, and their vulnerability when it comes to their gender, and decisions which could have an impact they’re not expecting). This article is long but well worth a read – it’s one mother’s story of her daughter’s desire to transition.

Not on my watch is Krish Kandiah at his best, using Fathers’ Day to ask men whether they’ll step up to the challenge of caring for the most vulnerable. Adoption and fostering are two ways to do this, obviously, but they’re not the only ways. Our society has one particular definition of ‘real men’, but the Bible may be calling you guys to something different…take a read!

This article, about some fiery female missionaries who were practising Christian feminism way before the #metoo movement, was fascinating.

How disability makes a church strong spoke right to my heart about how vital inclusivity and diversity are to our church communities. I’m becoming so passionate about this!

And I’m really enjoying Abby King’s blog at the moment. She’s a fellow ACW member and writes a really thought-provoking devotional each week. I’m finding it so relevant and considered. Have a read of Why it helps to know what you really want.

On the blog

I was privileged to review The Mermaid who couldn’t, a fantastic book aimed at adopted children.

For Fathers’ Day, I published two pieces: some musings on the idea of having no father, and a tribute to my husband, who’s a wonderful father to our four kids.

In response to 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave which I mentioned last month, I wrote about five valuable work lessons I’d learnt from my nearly nine-year ‘maternity leave’…

To celebrate National Writing Day last week, I took up this writing challenge (“I feel most free when…”) – and then shared a few thoughts having watched the wonderfully thought-provoking ‘Gone Fishing’, featuring Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer.

Elsewhere

Whilst I still feel like a blog novice (after six years?! How can that be?), people have started to ask my advice when thinking about starting their own blogs. So I put a few thoughts down in my ACW More than Writers blog this month: “Why and how should I start a blog?” Do have a look if you’re in this position.

Other

* I went to the beautiful wedding of a lovely new friend – it was down-to-earth, simple, and God-centred.

* We finally found a Fathers’ Day gift for DD that he liked and didn’t complain about (he doesn’t like ‘commercial festivals’ and never knows what he wants for the non-commercial ones):

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God bless Pinterest.

* I went to watch my boy play cricket for his school (having no idea whether he knew the rules or not). It was a lovely, relaxed tournament for Years 3&4, with the Years 5&6 matches clearly taking on a bit more formality (read: they had rules). Our school did really well, winning our group and progressing to the semi-final where I think we came 3rd (?). Anyway, it was a great achievement for a school which doesn’t have loads of kids paying for additional sports coaching. We were all very proud!

* We had our school Summer Fair! Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know what a big deal this is – our PTA only started last year, and this is our second Summer Fair. We were aiming to improve on last year’s £1000 profit by a couple of hundred, but I was sceptical about actually reaching it. In actual fact, we made over £1400 – smashed it!! It was also just such a lovely afternoon, with great weather, and a brilliant atmosphere amongst all the families who came.

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* The most exciting thing for me this month – and possibly this year (you can tell I don’t get out much) – was a child-free 24-hour trip to London with my good friend Izzy to hear Tim and Kathy Keller speak on Identity and Sexuality. Oh my goodness, they were superb! The first hour was like an undergraduate Sociology lecture – the second was a brilliantly packed sermon. After lunch Kathy stormed it with some practical guidance for churches, then there was a brilliant panel made up of the Kellers and a couple of LGBQTI+ Christians. I couldn’t type my notes fast enough! I hope to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this blog over the next month or two…let me know if you’d be interested.

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Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m into’ blog posts. Do check them out – you may discover a fantastic new blogger!

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How do I use herbs and essential oils to improve my family’s quality of life?

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Last Autumn, Missy requested a ‘lip-balm making party’ for her 6th birthday. I’d never made a cosmetic product in my life, but a Google search provided a simple-enough recipe, and I began ordering the ingredients. Missy chose the flavours herself, opting for lavender and lemongrass.

After the party, to use up leftover ingredients, we made more lip balms and other products for Christmas presents. We needed a few more flavours, so before long our essential oil collection looked pretty comprehensive.

Now – as I guess you’ll know if you’ve ever bought oils – these don’t come cheap. And, once the purpose is served, you’re still left with quite a lot in the bottle – so what do you do?

I’m aware that it’s possible to make a whole range of skincare products using oils. I’m also aware that you can use them in homemade cleaning products. Both of these have the capacity to reduce plastic consumption as well as lowering the number of chemicals we put on ourselves, our kids, and in our home. Sounds good so far.

The question is: where to start? You can Google individual recipes, of course, but who knows if they’re going to work or not? And how long is it going to take you to build up a decent collection of stuff that really works?

Cue the Ultimate Herbs & Essential Oils Bundle: a huge, diverse and useful digital library of e-Books and online courses carefully sourced and curated to give you ideas, recipes, tips and background information galore.

Ultimate Bundles is a Canadian company which scours the Internet, looking for the best digital resources on topics requested by customers. They then collate them all into an incredible ‘bundle’ and sell it for next-to-nothing – but only for a few days.

I came across them a couple of months ago when I bought their Ultimate Homemaking Bundle. It’s revolutionised my life, and I’m only a few books in! There were sections on parenting strategies, working from home (the Blog Boss course was SO helpful!), fashion and style tips for parents, budgeting, time management, self-care, home organisation and even faith. There were over 130 titles in all – and I paid the equivalent of about two or three books.

Anyway, you don’t want to hear about that (although I could ramble on for ages, it was such a brilliant buy) – you want to hear about what you get in this Herbs & Essential Oils bundle – right?!

Firstly, there’s a ‘Beauty’ section – seven fabulous e-Books written by people who know their stuff, going into detail on how you can make all sorts of different skincare and bath products.

I’m particularly keen on the ‘The Nerdy Farm Wife’s Natural Bath Bombs’ – I think I’ll be stashing this one away as a good idea for me and the kids to make for Christmas presents. And ‘Natural Body Care: Recipes that soothe the skin’ will be really interesting, as I have eczema and very sensitive skin.

Then there’s a section on Cooking, which includes a couple of helpful guides on cooking with herbs, spices and oils. I’m a huge fan of growing herbs, and we have a good selection in our garden, but I’m not so brilliant at finding ways to use all of them.

There’s also a section on Essential Oils – a 3-month membership to The Essential Oils Club, plus six e-books on all aspects of oils including recipes, safety considerations, benefits for families, and much more.

The other sections are on Herbs, Foraging, Natural Remedies, and For Your Home. DIY Holistic Cleaning: Safe and Natural Ways to Clean Your Home and Workplace sounds particularly intriguing – I’d love to learn more about how I can clean without chemicals. (When I do clean. Ahem.)

If you bought each resource individually, it would cost you $567.48 (roughly £426) – not to mention the time it would take you to source so much fabulously helpful material – but from May 30th to June 4th only, you can get them all in this fantastic bundle for $29.97 (roughly £22.52).

That’s the cost of about three actual books – but you’re getting 34 resources. Amazing! And there are 444 recipes across the bundle – can you imagine how much it would cost to buy this amount of inspiration? At least two, if not three or four, recipe books.

I’m not planning a hard sell here – that’s not my style – but I do like to share with you resources that I’ve found useful. The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle blew me away, which is why I’ve become an affiliate, bringing these packages to lots of my UK readers who won’t yet have come across this company.

If herbs and oils aren’t your thing, not to fear – there are plenty more bundles planned for the rest of this year: healthy living, photography, genius blogger’s, and healthy meal planning. I’ll be alerting you to each one, so that you won’t miss out on something you’re interested in.

Whatever the topic, each bundle will be filled with quality resources, designed to make your life easier, more interesting and enjoyable. And, unlike ordering paper books, you’re not waiting for a chance to get to the bookshop, or for an online order to be dispatched.

The Herbs & Essential Oils bundle is available from this Wednesday (May 30th) until June 4th only. To purchase it, simply click here anytime between those dates (I’ll remind you next week, but wanted to give you a bit of time to think about it).

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what i was into – 2017 special

I’m not doing a ‘what i’m into’ for December, for the simple reason that you can probably guess what I was into, seeing as I’m a total Christmas-freak, and if you still really can’t bring yourself to imagine December Chez Desert then you can read each of the 24 ADVENT BLOG POSTS I WROTE!! Still can’t believe I made it to the end.

Anyway, instead, here’s a round-up of 2017, with my top three of everything! If you’re looking for inspiration for what to read, cook or watch in 2018, look no further!

Top three books

miller_aprayinglife.jpgIt’s tremendously hard to pick three, as I read some stonking stuff this year, but purely because of the lasting impact they’ve had on me, my top three (in no particular order) are:

A Praying Life – if you’re a Christian and haven’t read it, I beg you to plonk it on your list for 2018.

My Rock, My Refuge – had to make the list because it’s the only devotional I’ve stuck to for an entire year. Some days weren’t all that noteworthy, and others were hugely relevant and challenging – but I know that the cumulative effect of me absorbing each and every Psalm across the year is a positive one.

Image result for wonder bookWonder – one of the simplest, yet most powerful novels I’ve read. Wonder-ful.

 

 

 

Top three meals out

Bistro Guy (November)

Zill’s (October)

Bistro Rosa (August)

Top three new recipes

Brownie Ice Cream sandwiches (Twist, Martha Collison – get it now while it’s cheap!)

Millionnaire’s Shortbread (Twist, Martha Collison)

Veggie fajitas (I make it up! But based on various recipes easily sourced from t’Internet)

Top three TV programmes

I actually only watched about three things this year. They were good though.

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The Apprentice (obviously this would always make my list), Twin Peaks, and that amazing Rio Ferdinand documentary on bereavement, which made me cry quite a lot.

Top three films

Philomena, Lion and The Lady in the Van – all powerful, but in very different ways. Amazing performances by all the lead characters, and gripping plots too.

Top three live theatre shows

Very, very hard to choose, but I’m going to go with: Nina Conti, Everything is Possible (locally produced play about the Suffragette movement) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

(I’d also like to add Jane Eyre in brackets, because I’m not supposed to be allowing myself a fourth, but it was so good that I’m hoping no one will mind.)

Top three blog posts

Statistically, they were:

* Five Ways my Toddlers are Different from Yours

* The Silent Anniversary: Celebrating Marriage in a Culture of Relationship Breakdown

* Am I OK with my daughter aspiring to ‘mummy’?

But because I’m always interested by the variation between what I think is an interesting blog post and what you do, here’s a post which I rather liked but didn’t do as well as I thought it might: What we want for our Kids: Status (why not have a read and boost its stats!).

Three things I never thought I’d do in 2017

  • Go for a job interview (May)
  • Go to a football match (October)
  • Spot a house intruder (November) – ah! I never told you about this one, did I?!

Three things I’m very proud of doing in 2017

  • Setting up the school PTA (February ish)
  • Giving a talk to a reasonably-sized audience (April)
  • Fixing a lawnmower (June)

 

Thank you all for being a marvellous audience in 2017. There are some exciting things afoot for 2018 which I can’t wait to share with you – watch this space, I’ll be blogging again very soon!

 

what i’m into – may 2017

Once again, I feel like a fraud writing a ‘What I’m into’, when I’ve blogged approximately zero else this month. But at least there has been movement…a post I’ve been drafting for the last couple of months (yes, really) is soon to hit this site! Watch out for it soon.

I have, however, been enjoying life away from the computer screen:

Books

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I mentioned Hunter S. Thompson’s Better than Sex last month. It did take me all month to finish, and Desert Dad thought I was crazy (“Why do you keep reading that when it’s such hard work?”) but what can I say? I’m a starter-finisher and can’t help myself. In a nutshell? Thompson created ‘Gonzo journalism’, where fiction and non-fiction are weaved seamlessly together in a haze of alcohol and, sometimes, recreational drugs. The book is about the 1992 Clinton campaign, with crazed anecdotes thrown in – some of which (I guess) were real, some of which were exaggerated, and some of which might have been totally fabricated for all I know. But his style is quite endearing really. I’m not sure I’ll be reading any more by him – the experience wasn’t unpleasant, but I’m just not that into politics. Or swearing.

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A couple of kids’ books have gone down a storm in the Desert household this month. First up, Fantastically Great Women who changed the World. I discovered this a couple of months ago in an independent bookshop, and we really got into it this month, discovering the achievements of Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Frida Kahlo, Anne Frank, and many more. Mister (7) and Missy (5) loved the way the book is written – succinct chunks of really fascinating info – and the design is beautiful too. I’d recommend it for both boys and girls – and parents! I learnt loads!

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Second, Everything a Child should know about God is a beautifully illustrated systematic theology for kids. Again, my 7yo and 5yo love it – I would say it’s perfect for the 4-8 age group, but could be enjoyed by those younger and older. It does what it says on the tin – under several headings such as All about the Bible, Who God Is, Jesus comes to help us, and Why we go to Church. Desert Dad (fussy theologian) reckons it’s too basic, and doesn’t address the deep questions kids often have – but I reckon it’s a great solid basis for any child being raised in a Christian home, and well worth a fiver. And, besides, I’ve told DD he should meet the gap in the market and develop an apologetics book for kids, so watch this space…

Food

Friends, it was May. Far too late in the year to be continuing to put in any effort whatsoever to creating exciting meal plans. And, besides, the sun shone for at least five days this month, rendering me incapable of doing anything other than throwing some leftovers together or chucking some dead animal on the barbecue. That we did, though – another item ticked off the Summer Bucket List. UK summers (especially in the North) are so short that I often feel like if I haven’t cooked a BBQ, worn shorts, got the paddling pool out, been to the beach and drunk Pimm’s all in one day, I may well have missed my chance for another year.

Actually – what am I saying? This was the month that I made my own sourdough bread, a crazily lengthy process which should really have happened in the enthusiastic days of early January, when anything is possible – not May, when I’m jaded and exhausted. Paul Hollywood claims, enthusiastically, “Once you’ve made your own bread ‘starter’ and produced a few loaves using it, there’ll be no going back to supermarket bread.” Er, yes, except supermarket bread doesn’t involve a small amount of rancid-smelling nothingness sitting on your worktop for several days, demanding as much ‘feeding’ and ‘nurturing’ as a young child, followed by a bread-making process so lengthy it requires you to book childcare and, quite possibly, a haircut – just in case you don’t make it out the other side before your roots are halfway down your head and the split-ends are numerous. OK, I exaggerate, but artistic licence is my privilege and I’m going to use it.

The bread was tasty, though. And lasted about 15 minutes in the presence of my hub’s extended family, with whom I was sharing a house for the weekend. That bit was quick at least.

Needless to say, second-time round I attempted to use the bread machine to speed things up. This picture tells you all you need to know about that idea.

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I made a moussaka which was eaten enthusiastically by ALL SIX MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY, and also the only proper meal I took a picture of this month, so am inserting it here:

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(OK maybe I lie. Perhaps it was five members. Or four. I can’t remember. A majority, anyhow.)

Oh – and one day during May, I may have eaten a lunch which consisted entirely of breadsticks meant for the kiddoes with my absolutely favourite dip. There’s nothing like discovering that a favourite food needs to be used by <today’s date> to throw out my usually maverick attitude towards food safety. Mostly, I’m all “If it smells fine and looks fine and tastes fine, it’s fine” – but on discovering an unopened Onion and Garlic dip, which is the most delicious savoury item in the whole entire universe, I suddenly turned into “Ooh, well I MUST eat that, lest the hub or the kiddoes try it and get food poisoning…what sort of mother would I be to expose them to food one second past its use-by date?”

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That was a good day, and I have no regrets.

Articles

British food explained for Americans made me giggle out loud on several occasions – particularly funny if you know both food cultures.

I’m sure I read other stuff but nothing stands out. Probably just full of crazed Hunter S. Thompson lines to really absorb anything sensible.

Music

This month has been dominated by my kids (Missy especially) discovering Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. We have reached That Stage. Because I’m so cool, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn some new chord sequences as I busked the songs the kids were bringing home, appreciating (in particular) the use of the supertonic and flattened leading note chords in ‘Roar‘ – sadly, I’m not even joking. Quote of the month was Missy announcing, “Wow, Katy Swift [sic] has done that song that’s in ‘Sing’!” I think ‘Katy’ would be thrilled to know that her hard work was being credited to a couple of animated pigs.

Stage and screen

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I’ve had to add the ‘stage’ part to this section this month, because I went to the theatre THREE TIMES!! We saw Stewart Lee, one of my favourite stand-ups. I can’t describe just how brilliant he is, so if you were expecting me to, then watch this instead – it’s total genius. We finally got to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company, after years of not getting round to it, and that was great too. I’m sure I’d have got a lot more of the references had I known more Shakespeare, but it’s so cleverly written that it’d be funny to someone who knew no Shakespeare plays whatsoever.

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Then, because sometimes you need some misery to balance out the fun, I went to see Jane Eyre with a couple of friends. Having read the book and seen various film/TV adaptations, I was interested to see how it would be staged, but it was phenomenal, with a live band on stage and original music which was neither of the period, nor jarring with it. The whole performance seemed to utilise modern theatre techniques without destroying the period and essence of the original. I loved it! It’s still got a fair few dates left on its tour, so click here if you’re interested – I highly recommend it.

Screen-wise, we’ve been glued to the new series of Twin Peaks, having devoured the original seasons a couple of years ago. I’m a girl who likes conclusions, so David Lynch’s bizarre twists and turns and subplots and sub-subplots shouldn’t really be my cup of tea, but I guess with every episode I’m holding out for an answer of some kind. And the ride is so good that I’m not even that bothered.

In other news…

I transformed our garage!

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Perhaps a small feat for many of you, but for me this has been a year-long dream. You read that right. Menial tasks have become something I can only dream of having the time to complete – so this makeover is something I’m immensely proud of. Mister and Missy helped me build the extra storage, and hopefully it means that the clutter-free space is now sustainable.

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As mentioned above, we enjoyed a gorgeous weekend away with the extended fam at a big old farmhouse with indoor pool and beautiful grounds. Clergy families rarely get a weekend away, usually having to save up Sundays-off for summer holidays, so this was a big treat for us all. The kiddoes had a wonderful time in the pool and being spoilt by their relatives, and Mister taught himself to swim in a morning!

I had a job interview – the first in 11 years! I didn’t get it – which I’m totally happy about – but, also, I didn’t make a tit of myself and, in fact, got some rather lovely feedback which made me smile and jump around a little bit. Turns out SAHMs aren’t totally de-skilled when they take a career break 🙂

I went to a bridal shower, and then the subsequent wedding, of some fab church friends. Weddings make me so happy, especially when the main players are so entirely brilliant together.

And, because it was sunny, I did All The Laundry (I have a thing about air-dried clothes), which inevitably meant not being able to keep up with the Putting Away. Piles like this started to appear all over the house.

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But we didn’t care because we were in the garden anyway 🙂

How was your May?

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series.

 

what i’m into – march 2017

Books

Don’t faint or anything, but this month I managed TWO books.

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When my brother, one of the most quietly radical Christians I know, said that A Praying Life had revolutionized his prayer life, I determined to read it. I started it two years ago, got seven chapters in and lost interest. It seemed a bit predictable and repetitive. But I always vowed to take it up again – and, very quickly, it became brilliant. Paul E. Miller is so insightful, with lots of original things to say about everything from anxiety to cynicism to suffering – all whilst encouraging us to develop (or rediscover) a childlike dependence on God. Seriously, every Christian should read this book.

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Then, a little late to the party, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, something I’d been meaning to read since Gordon Brown was at no.10. (Remember him?) It was just as wonderful as I’d expected, and took no time at all to finish.

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(PS I’m still going with Tim and Kathy Keller’s My Rock My Refuge and am only a day behind – woohoo! I thoroughly recommend this if you’re anything like me with daily Bible reading, i.e. need a (dated) kick up the backside to establish a habit!)

Food

After my February ‘What I’m into’ post (which now seems to have vanished – I blame the kiddoes…), where I bemoaned my limited vegetarian vocabulary, my veggie friend Hannah pointed me to her very helpful blog, which contains recipes, meal plans and tips on cooking for vegetarians and vegans. I’ve found it helpful not only for taking recipes as written, but for reminding me what can be done without meat – for example, veggie fajitas, which are so yummy and child-friendly. I took this recipe and adapted it, adding in a few bits we needed to finish up, and baking the rolled fajitas in tomato sauce with a liberal helping of grated cheese on top. Everyone wolfed it down – this happens very rarely in a household where half of the residents change their food likes and dislikes on an hourly basis.

Marinated tofu in black bean sauce was OK, but tofu is a lot more expensive when marinated, and I didn’t think it added much to the dish (protein, obvs, but little flavour). Pretty colours though:

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This vegan jambalaya went down well, especially the Quorn sausage. Does anyone else feel like they’re cheating when they use Quorn though?

The veggie star of the month was Mushrooms Cacciatore, which I served with rigatoni. The lingering cooking time, the veg and the wine, all combined to make a really rich, flavoursome sauce for the pasta – and, most importantly for meat-eaters, we didn’t miss the meat!

I was intrigued by a GP friend going on a High Fat, Low Carbs diet experiment – you can read his blog here. I’ve been aware for a while that processed carbs are not the best, and our dependence on them could lead to some serious health issues in later life – but I was intrigued by the High Fat part. This website explains more.

The recipes looked fun, and we got round to trying the Chicken and Coconut Curry, which we served with Cauliflower Rice instead of the usual white rice, and the Hamburger Patties in a Creamy Tomato Sauce, which was served with a huge pile of buttery fried cabbage instead of a bun. I felt properly full after each of these meals – although I understand from my friend that following this diet to the letter will result in some carb-cravings. I also bought a spiralizer this month, so am looking forward to trying courgetti, squashini and all sorts of other veg-based fillers…more in the April edition of ‘What I’m into’!

Articles

Not exactly an ‘article’, but Jen Wilkin’s incredible talk on raising a child to stand out rather than fit in just blew my mind this month. So much practical guidance in here, without any sense of judgement or weariness. I strongly recommend this for any Christian parent – it’s around an hour long.

I also enjoyed this article from the Guardian on a couple who adopted out of choice rather than necessity.

And, in a month where World Book Day had many parents (me included) reaching for the wine whilst simultaneously trying to hide under a rock, you can’t beat Hurrah for Gin’s hilarious commentary.

Music

This is just WONDERFUL!

…and I’ve discovered that the chord that makes Carole King’s ‘Up on the roof’ so wonderful (a 2nd inversion major 7th, if you were asking) can also be inserted into ‘The Splendour of the King’ for a rather nice, slow-but-powerful end to a worship set! Oh my goodness, is there anything better than Carole King and James Taylor combining their wonderful musical talents? I love how Taylor looks like he’s wandered in after a spot of gardening.

Oh look, I even picked up a guitar myself this month. Pic taken by one of the minions, mid-singing, hence dodgy expression.

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Screentime

We had a rare Whole Evening Without Other Agendas at some point during March, so decided to watch Fargo – it was engaging enough, but I didn’t feel it lived up to its synopsis, with characters under-developed and plot-line not intricate enough to grip us.

In other news…

Don’t get too excited, but this month we made the switch from margarine to butter. There you go, you can exhale now. (Truth be told, I only really made the switch so I could buy a pretty butter dish.)IMG_20170404_212539

Once again, we failed to buy a sofa. (This is a saga which has lasted two years now, and counting.) We moved the old one out, moved a ‘new’ (second-hand) one in, moved the ‘new’ (second-hand) one out, and then moved the old one back in. The Hokey Cokey has nothing on us.

We had a fun weekend with the grandparents, including a visit to a safari park and a fantastic imaginative play centre. And we also had a visit from some old friends we hadn’t seen in years.

My two wonderful Japanese friends came round and prepared the most incredible sushi feast for us and our kids. Shhhh, don’t tell them….it’s the only reason I make friends with Japanese ladies!

I helped a friend move house. And spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing a talk and didn’t do any laundry or tidying for a week. Well, not much. My mind boggles as to how anyone does talks week in, week out. Guess God’s teaching me a bit of empathy for my other half then 😉

Oh, and I used my PTA perk of a Booker card to stockpile Creme Eggs, my absolute favourite chocolate!

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How has your March been?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog – go check it out!

what i’m into – january 2017

This is a first for me.

At first, I thought this sort of post was incredibly self-centred – why would anyone be interested what I’ve been into each month? But having spent a couple of years reading other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog (give it a read here), I’ve realised that I’m just a little bit nosey. I love seeing what others are reading, watching, listening to. It gives me ideas for the future, things to look into or try out. So, here’s my offering, for any similarly-nosey Desertmum readers. Who knows? You may go away with a killer book recommendation or at least a laugh at how ridiculously geeky I am. And you get to check out other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, all linked at the bottom of Leigh’s, if you so wish.

Books

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I am hopeless at reading. There is precious little time to read, and when it does turn up, I read very slowly. Remember when I did that book-a-month thing, two years ago? It lasted till about April, when my friend Kirsty lent me a wonderful but long non-fiction book in tiny font. Guess she didn’t get the memo. I finally completed it around Christmas 2016, a mere 20 months after starting it. This momentous occasion opened up all sorts of delights in my ever-growing reading pile. I settled on Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist which I’ve been enjoying more and more with each chapter. I love her gracious storyteller style, her acknowledgement of the full scope of feminism (rather than simply up-front leading), her love of Jesus, and her adherence to Scripture. I suspect her book is not meant for people like me, who have never questioned the role of women in Scripture or in modern day church life – but it’s tying various strands of theology together for me in a very helpful way.

Another thing I’m hopeless at is any sort of regular devotional time. Timothy Keller is kindly sorting me out on that one, with his excellent My Rock, My Refuge, which takes the reader through the Psalms in one year. My prayer/accountability triplet are going through this during 2017 and it’s been a blessing to all three of us. Short, encouraging, thought-provoking, and the Bible passage is written out on the page, so it couldn’t be easier. I’ll say that again: the Bible passage is written out on the page. It literally takes NO EFFORT to read this devotional guide, but the outcome makes me think, leads me to Jesus and propels me into prayer.

I’ve been getting more and more excited about the Suzuki method of learning music, and the twins’ Suzuki teacher kindly lent me Everything depends on how we raise them (by Shigeki Tanaka, trans. Kyoko Selden). I’m not too far into it just yet, but it’s proving an interesting foil to my years of secondary music education experience. I’m planning a blog post on Suzuki and adoption very soon – watch out, this is the year I’m being super-motivated on the blog (remember??) so it may actually happen.

Food

In 2016 I challenged myself to cook without recipes for an entire year. I managed it more-or-less, and taught myself how to bake cakes and brownies from scratch. (Sadly, I never mastered cookies. Sob.) This year, I’m much enjoying the stimulation of new ideas from recipe books (and although I haven’t yet baked any cookies, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them anytime soon). So what have I been cooking?

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Simply Nigella was found in a charity shop just before Christmas, when I should have been shopping for others, but who can resist a one-year-old hardback recipe book for £3, eh? During my year of recipe books, I discovered that Nigella’s recipes just really work for us. They’re tasty, most likely to get eaten by the majority of our family, and not too fussy (or, where they are, they can be easily simplified). So it was a joy to properly delve into a new (to me) book. We enjoyed her Chicken Traybake with Bitter Orange and Fennel, and Chicken and Wild Rice. The adults, not the kids (unpredictably), enjoyed the Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese, but I was the only one who enjoyed the Cauliflower and Cashew Nut Curry.

Martha Collison’s Twist has just been brilliant. A Christmas present from my Mum (technically ‘+ Dad’ but, come on, we all know who actually chose it), this has been wonderful in leading me on from last year’s recipe desert to a place where I can take a recipe as a starting point, then add my own flavours and ‘twists’. OK, so I haven’t done that yet, but that’s largely because Martha’s own flavours are so damn enticing – and, as well, there’s 7-5-2-2 to consider. I’ve made the Route 66 Rocky Road (think rocky road made with popcorn, cranberries, peanuts and marshmallows), Bollywood Bars (white chocolate rocky road with cardamom and chilli) and the rather scrummy Carrot, Orange and Blueberry layer cake.

If you were reading desertmum in 2015 you may remember how brilliant Jo Pratt’s Madhouse Cookbook was – well, it still is, and I spent January trying to find the few recipes I haven’t already tried: only Corned Beef and Sweetcorn Hash, and Vegetable and Beany Gonzales Chilli were attempted – but, predictably, the latter was eaten by ALL 6 of my family, with one (fussy) child demolishing it in seconds!

Mince was great in reminding me about meatloaf – essentially meatballs (which I cook often) but in a different shape. Genius.

Articles

Here are some online articles I found particularly wonderful this month:

How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence  was an interesting and challenging read, especially the bit about not using screens to pacify small children. Ouch. But good ouch.

Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop telling us we’re beautiful I’m very grateful that the women’s ministry I enjoy locally doesn’t patronise our intelligence or our theology, but this was still an interesting read, and a warning too.

How to live under an unqualified president Of all the things I’ve read on Trump, this was the best by far…I either see incredible Trump-bashing, or (less often) right-wing Christians being sympathetic to him. All American citizens should read this. Honestly? It’s a brutal condemnation of all the ungodly, un-Biblical behaviour of America’s new president BUT it’s written with so much love and grace, and an unshakeable faith in God to work above and beyond world leaders, that the whole thing filled me with hope and assurance.

Anger and injustice My wonderful friends moved to rural Ethiopia last year, and I just love their blog, when there is time or Internet connection to update. In particular, this article was thought-provoking – some reflections of our friend as he looks back on the first few months teaching in an African theological college.

Doing Well Another friend writes so articulately about life as a bereaved parent with MS that I feel my understanding rockets in the few short minutes I take to read her blog. Please read this, it’s important.

Screentime

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January was the month I decided I was fed up of making excuses why I never made it to the cinema, so when a friend recommended La La Land, I immediately made plans to see it with a different friend. I really enjoyed it – she wasn’t so sure. I think enjoyment involves, to some extent, lifting off any expectations based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein golden era of musicals – and also more recent offerings like Moulin Rouge and the various Disney musicals. This is definitely a musical for the 2010s. I didn’t find any of the songs memorable or catchy, but the feel of the whole thing is so glorious that it almost didn’t matter. Bizarrely, whilst I couldn’t hum any of the tunes after the film had ended, I had the general musical tempo/instrumentation/rhythms in my head for some weeks afterwards. So it does get under your skin.

I always enjoy spending January catching up with things I taped over Christmas when I was too busy to watch. One was The lady in the van, Alan Bennett’s fantastic re-telling of a rather eccentric woman in his life. Maggie Smith is so good that I forgot she was Maggie Smith until half way through. AND this film made it into the small overlap of films that both I and Desert Dad enjoy. No small feat. Saving Mr Banks didn’t quite make it into the centre of this Venn diagram, so the hubster trundled off to bed – but I found it so engaging that I watched into the wee hours, not daring to switch off.

I couldn’t get into Northern Soul, though, despite trying for the best part of an hour. One of the few films I haven’t finished.

Games

We’re big fans of games in our household, particularly strategy ones for the adults. My Christmas present from DD was Splendour, which we’ve enjoyed countless times this month. Its advantages are: you can play with just two (but we have had a few games of four with friends, and it works equally well), the games are short for this genre (half an hour or less), it’s simple to pick up – but, like the best strategy games, has a vast number of different strategies you can use to win. Also – strategy game fans will know I’m not being shallow here – the game is made so nicely! Beautiful pictures, proper, weighty coins, and the box fits everything perfectly. Nice!

jacket, Dobble

With the kids, we’ve enjoyed much Dobble, and a new one for Christmas: Blink (readily available on eBay, once that link expires). If you have primary-aged children in your home, or you buy presents for some, I highly recommend both of these.

In other news…

I managed to keep the downstairs tidy (by my standards, i.e. a little lower than average) for an entire month! Woohoo!

I think I saw the bottom of a laundry basket at some point, but the memory quickly faded.

The kiddoes, as usual, went to more parties than I did.

We caught up with American friends we hadn’t seen in 3.5 years, a British friend we hadn’t seen in over a year, a cousin we see intermittently, and made a trip to the in-laws for a special birthday.

I enjoyed an afternoon’s training in Dalcroze Eurythmics, knowing this means nothing to about 99% of my readers, but throwing it in there anyway as a proud moment.

Oh…and our school which was in Special Measures? It got a GOOD from Ofsted! Just about our proudest moment for the month, and possibly the year!

…and that’s about it for January. What have you been into?